Friday, June 27, 2008

A Massive Question - Pulling no Punches on this One.

This is a big question. This is the one that sits on my shoulder the most.

When I was in the 4th grade, a week before Thanksgiving, my grandmother was killed by a drunk driver. When Thanksgiving rolled around, we did not really feel like having a dinner... but we did. We also set an empty place for her at the table.

In my entire childhood, communion was a symbolic gesture of us getting together to remember who has gone past us before.

When the wife became Catholic I learned the Catholic views on the wine and bread and how the bread and wine transubstantiate into the body and blood of Christ.

This made and currently still makes no sense to me... the wife and I have gone around and around on a tilt-a-whirl on this one.

I cannot logically understand or wrap my mind around it enough to just accept it on faith. What is the philosophy behind this? The tradition behind this? And for the love of all that is good... is there any proof?

Many traditions have customs to remember their dead. For instance the Japanese set up an altar to remember them... so how do we know that he simply wished for us to gather together and simply remember him?

This one question will probably produce the most responses out of me yet. While my other questions were answered in ways that I could fully appreciate, this one... I go round and round on with people. It is not that I am trying to be difficult, but my brain needs a kind of re-wiring on this.

Because the answers I have received have been so good so far, I am hoping someone will just knock me off of my feet with something that helps me come to terms with this.

35 comments:

Flexo said...

Many good and legitimate questions posed around what is at the heart of the Faith. But please understand that, because it is at the heart of the Faith, there are a few other things that would require explanation first before it could be explained in satisfactory understandable terms. Moreover, the answer lies not merely in the limited modern concept of reason (scientifically verifiable by testing), but in a broader and truer understanding of reason (which is open to the possibility of the transcendent), as well as such reason enlightened by faith.

The Eucharist -- the change of bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Christ -- is one of those things that many spend much time meditating and reflecting upon. So, if a satisfactory answer is not posed this weekend, do not get discouraged.

That said, while I ponder the matter myself in preparation to knock you off your feet (and give others an opportunity to take a crack at it), reflect upon this --

How is it that the world exists? How did it come to be?

Christianity proposes that that the universe was created ex nihilo (out of nothing) by God (as for questions of the nature of this "God," who and what He is, we'll leave them for another day).

How did He do this? Genesis informs us that He said, "Let there be light" and BOOM, the material making up the universe, as well as time, exploded into existence -- from nothing before time, to something in time. Clearly, such a thing is absurd and impossible from a modern scientific understanding. But science also concedes that it's own theory of the Big Bang is equally impossible -- something from nothing -- and yet we are here nonetheless.

Now faith (and the Gospel of John) informs us that Jesus is the Logos, from the Greek for logic or reason -- God Himself. And as with the beginning of the world, at the Last Supper, Jesus said, "This is my body." So too does a priest today repeat those words. And just as God had the ability to create the universe ex nihilo at the words "Let there be light," so too does God have the ability to turn bread and wine into His Body and Blood (while still having the superficial appearance of bread and wine) at the words, "This is my body . . . This is my blood."
As for a priest having the power to do this -- he doesn't. The priest does not change bread to Body. Rather, Jesus acting through the priest does this.

This took longer to write (and read) than I thought it would to make this initial point, so I'll try to get right to the point -- if God can create the something of the world out of nothing, it is a simple matter to enter into His creation and thereby change bread and wine into His own Body and Blood.

More on this later -- much more -- but in wondering how the Eucharist is possible, something to chew on in the meantime -- How is it possible that the world itself exists?

Matt G said...

Like flexo said, this is a huge question and one that I don't hope to answer fully in this post (in fact, no one has answered it fully if you are requesting scientific evidence). Let's start with the basics:

What is the Catholic view of the Eucharist? The word we use is transubstantiation and it's loaded with theological and philosophical meaning. It literally means change of substance, substance here having the Greek metaphysical definition of something's essence. This is to distinguish it from its effects which are what we can sense and measure through scientific means.

To try to make this a little clearer, your individuality, "who you are", is your substance. Your effects are what we see, hear and generally experience, from hair color to tone of voice or what-have-you. If you changed your hair color or lost your voice it does not change your substance, merely your effects. Likewise, if you have a twin who is indistinguishable from you right down to your DNA, they are not you. They have all of your effects, but not the same substance.

This is a necessary concept to grasp for understanding the Church's teaching. The Catholic Church does not now nor has she ever taught that the effects of the bread and wine change into the Body and Blood of Christ. It will still look, taste and feel the same and lab results will tell you that it is bread and wine. What the Church teaches is that the substance, "what it really is", is changed by the grace of God through this sacrament. This is what is required by faith.

And I do mean, by faith. This is without a doubt the singularly most difficult teaching of the Church. Everything else you can at least rationally explain as at least making as much sense as any Protestant interpretation. Not this one. The Protestants make more "sense" because what they believe coincides with what they perceive very nicely. The one and only reason that Catholics believe otherwise is because it was the teaching of Christ as understood by the Apostles and handed down through Sacred Tradition for 2000 years.

It's ok that you don't have the faith to believe this yet. Hopefully you can find the faith to be open to believing that this is possible. God can do anything, right?

Ok, so now let's look at why the Church holds such a unique view. The best place to start is Sacred Scripture. I'm going to skip around a bit and point out the major foundations for this teaching. This is not by any means an exhaustive list and in fact the entire New Testament can be read in a Eucharistic light.

I'll begin with John chapter 6. It is in this chapter that Jesus first suggests what He will do at the Last Supper:

So they said to him, "What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" So Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." So they said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. John 6:30-35

Here Jesus sets up the crown for what He is about to tell them. What is important to note is that the crowd asks for a sign, something tangible to prove He is the Son of God. Jesus tells them that He is the Bread of Life. For the sake of brevity I'll skip quoting the section where the Pharisees generally act like Pharisees and miss the point entirely. Jesus then clarifies:

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." John 6:47-51

Here we have Jesus claiming that eternal life is available to those who eat His flesh. Again the Jews don't get it and ask how this is possible. Jesus says:

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats 19 my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. John 6:52-56

This is unique to Christ's sermons in the Gospels. Normally, if He gives a new teaching and His disciples don't understand, He will mutter something out of exasperation ("oh ye of little faith, do you still not understand?") and then oblige them with an explanation. Notice how he doesn't do this. He just repeats Himself. So the disciples say, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?". Jesus still does not take the opportunity to explain. More outrageously He asks, "does this shock you?". The Gospel tells us that "As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him." He is then alone with His Apostles. Surely if the crowds had misunderstood Him, He would have explained it to His own Apostles. But He just asks, "do you also want to leave?" and Peter, still having no more understanding than the crowd, says:

"Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God." John 6:68-69

Peter had to accept Christ's words on faith, because Christ would not explain how it was possible even to him. It of course becomes more clear to Peter (and to us) when we read the account of the Eucharist as celebrated at the Last Supper. All 3 of the Synoptic Gospels record Christ's words, "this is my body". John tells us what it meant.

Beyond the Gospels there are plenty of other examples that the Catholic belief was the one held by the early Christians. One such example is Paul's letter to the Corinthians:

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 1 Corinthians 10:16

And later:

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 11:27

If the Eucharist were just a sign, then how could it be a participation (i.e., partaking, i.e. eating) in the Body of Christ? If it's just a symbol how could partaking unworthily make one guilty of such sin that they are answerable for Christ's death? Obviously it has much more importance to St. Paul. It also had the same importance to the early leaders of the Church. I'm not going to post everything here but I hope you will look at Catholic.com's article containing quotes from church fathers in the very 1st century AD in an unbroken line for 500 years defending the Catholic view of the Eucharist.

If you've managed to stay awake for all of that, the one other thing I would recommend is Googling the Eucharistic Miracles, and specifically the one in Lanciano, Italy. These are not "proof positive", but the accounts are pretty convincing.

Scott J said...

I think flexo and I approach things in a somewhat similar fashion. At the risk of covering similar ground, I offer my comments knowing that sometimes it can be helpful to have a similar train of thought given by more than one individual in their own words, the better to begin to see the bigger picture that is attempting to be described.

As said above, the Eucharist, for Catholics, is at the very heart of what it is to be Catholic. So, your question is a great one because you are jumping straight into the essential core! Put out into the deep! But, also, this means that oceans of text could be written (and have been), and still not seem to even scratch the surface of this incredible teaching of the Body and Blood of Christ.

I will attempt over the next day or two to make several posts on this thread. Unless I do so it seems I wouldn't be able to say even what might approach a barely appropriate minimum on this awesome and (for me) awe-inspiring topic.

In this introductory post I aim to sketch a basic plan of where I will be trying to head in future posts. As I go along I will attempt writing about the Eucharist from the following perspectives:

I. Some comments about human reason and Christian faith as these relate to the doctrine of the the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ (the Eucharist).

II. A chain of interconnected truths that Catholics hold, all of which need to be in place, in order to have a faith in the holy Eucharist that is both authentic and not offensive to reason.

III. Old Testament precursors and foreshadowings of the Eucharist.

IV. New Testament witness to the holy Eucharist.

V. Some personal comments about how the Catholic teaching of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist has powerfully impacted my personal faith.


And, all of this will have to be cursory and only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. But, I will give it a try. Thank you, Damien, for your honesty and openness as you ask questions and read our attempts at a response.

To kick things off for my efforts, I want to offer the following item to hopefully provoke some thought: The real reason that the most grand Catholic churches and cathedrals are so glorious and extravagant (some would say needlessly so) is because of faith in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the holy Eucharist. God dwells--in a very real fashion--in every Church where the precious body and blood of Christ is reserved in a tabernacle. The most glorious edifice is unworthy of this presence. Yet, He is there. The very stones of a beautiful cathedral are a form of worship to almighty God in thanks and praise to His presence dwelling with us in so humble and accessible a form as the Eucharist. He is infinitely worthy of a physical place that reflects the incredible reality of Who dwells quietly there. The King of the universe. Same thing goes for sacred music, and all sacred art (windows, statues, icons, paintings) used to adorn a Catholic church. It is all a symphony of continual praise to Him who dwells there, silent in His hidden splendor. When the penitent woman anointed the feet of our Savior with expensive perfume and dried His feet with her hair, the Pharisees present objected, even took offense. But she knew the hidden sacredness of that all-holy body which she touched. A beautiful cathedral, a glorious sacred chant sung at Mass, holy icons, exquisite statuary--all, other instantiations of the same act, of lavishing rich gifts upon the holy and most sacred and precious body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our faith is not only spiritual--it is physical! (just as Jesus as He lived on earth was both spiritual and physical in his complete nature; He had--and still does by the way--both spiritual and bodily reality).

Scott J said...

I. Some comments about human reason and Christian faith as these relate to the doctrine of the the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ (the Eucharist)[apologies for any duplication of what others have already ably said]. . .


Do you have fully scientific "proof" for the doctrine of the Trinity (that God is three persons in one nature) and for the doctrine of the Incarnation (that Jesus Christ is both fully human and divine, one divine person in two natures)? It only took the most brilliant and holy men of the early Christian church about three centuries or so to place even these bedrock mysteries of the faith (Trinity and Incarnation) into human language in the most clear and accurate way they could come up with (resulting in the early Christian Creeds). Reason and faith are fully compatible and when properly exercised, complement and support one another. To the well-instructed Catholic, there is no contradiction between faith and reason. This being said, it is important to recognize that the knowledge that comes by faith often goes beyond/further than what unaided reason alone could ever know. In such cases we use the term "mystery." A mystery of faith is not an offense to reason, and it is not a convenient excuse to avoid grappling with something that is a challenge to our mind. Yet, a mystery of faith does involve truth about something which is close enough to the inner depths of God Himself that we cannot possibly (as mere creatures of God) fully comprehend it. We can, via reason illuminated by faith, grasp partially what we could otherwise not see at all. Why is this so? The simple answer, is, because God is God (and we are not). Faith involves knowing things that God has revealed--things that are not accessible to the powers of our human reason alone. [Somewhat like being in a darkened room. With only minimal light we can only see a few obscure shadows. Some objects we can't see at all though they are truly there. If we are then given night vision goggles, we have a new power of seeing which we didn't have before with our natural power alone. We can see new things previously hidden in the shadows. But, the vision is still limited. It is in only one color and is not very detailed. But what is now seen through the goggles is more than could be seen previously without them, including some things (akin to mysteries of faith) that had been completely hidden although truly there.]

In other words, God is omniscient. His mind is infinitely more capacious and more piercing than ours. This is not just a rhetorical commonplace. It's wholly true. God's knowledge is unlimited. He is creator of all that exists. If God is God (and thus, as God, has no limitations), then it is certainly true that there is a vast ocean of knowledge that God has that we don't. Because of the huge gap between the mind of God and the mind of man (for all the greatness of the human mind--it is, nonetheless, limited), there are many, many things that God knows that we are not capable of knowing at all. And, there are things He knows that we are capable of knowing only a teeny bit about and then only if He chooses to manifest them to us using human language, making them accessible to a human mode of understanding. (How, in detail, did He create the universe out of nothing? Would we understand if He "explained" it to us? How did He decide where to put various galaxies? Why did He create the angels? What is it like to live in eternity with no experience of time?)

This is a dim analogy, but a small child compared to an adult is illustrative. Forgive me if this is obvious. An adult scientist could describe to a two year old child all of the intricacies of the functioning of DNA, and still, the child would know next to nothing about DNA after the explanation. Why? The two-year-old mind in its current state of development and natural human limitations simply cannot understand things beyond a certain level of depth and complexity. An adult mind, being more developed and with greater power of comprehension and having a much greater store of learning so as to put knew information into a proper context, can understand many things on a level of much greater complexity and sophistication than the mind of a small child. It is like this with us and God, except to a far greater degree. And the difference is not merely quantitative, but qualitative (i.e. God is not just smarter than us--He has a divine way of knowing that is a mode of knowing that we simply don't have at all).

Even just taking the example of our human life, consider, how to fully explain the mystery of marital love between a man and a woman to a three year old? It simply can't be done. Even human love has an aspect of mystery to it that we ourselves cannot adequately capture with our own language.

The Eucharist is a radical, awesome, cosmos-transforming mystery of God's love for man. Could it ever be fully and adequately put into words that we could fully comprehend, thus allowing our mind's thirst for understanding to be fully sated? No way. We can't even do that with the noble beauty of merely human spousal love! And yet do we expect this to happen regarding this mystery of the love of God for man? Only if the Eucharist were a shallow, superficial, inconsequential thing, could we entertain the idea that there should be no mystery about it that remains. But, if the Eucharist is what Catholics say it is--the very body and blood of Jesus Christ, given for us specifically as an act of continuously ongoing love, under the appearances of bread and wine--it must be true consequently that the full reality and explanation of such is far beyond us to grasp! This does not mean it is totally shrouded in darkness. We do know quite a lot about the Eucharist that is a source of endless fascination and joy for our minds and hearts to contemplate. But, this knowledge can only go so far into the mystery whose full reality is an ocean our minds simply cannot contain.

The Eucharist is nothing other than the body of Jesus Christ; it is the body of the God-man. God is bigger than our minds. Therefore, the Eucharist (the body of God) is bigger than our minds. If we insist on being able to fully understand to our satisfaction how the Eucharist "works," we are in effect, making an idol of our own minds. We cannot know God on His own terms. The Eucharist could only be fully graspable by our human minds if it were not divine--but rather some natural created thing. But if the Eucharist is indeed God present giving Himself to man in love, of course we can't fully comprehend it. To think we could (or that we must) would be to think our minds equal to the mind of God--a state of supreme pride.


Faith in the Eucharist requires several things: 1) Humility--to recognize that our mind is not on a par with the mind of God. 2) Recognition that there is such a thing as authentic Revelation which content we can have certainty about--entailing God's sure self-communication to mankind truths about Himself and His creation and our relationship to Him. 3) To know that the doctrine of the Eucharist is a part of the truths of Revelation that God has indeed communicated to man with certainty. 4) To realize that God, as God, the one who created the entire cosmos from nothing, can do anything He wants and is not limited by our limited conceptions of what is to be expected. 5) To recognize that this doctrine (of the Eucharist) is one of the mysteries of the faith; as such, it is true and does not violate human reason, although going far beyond human reason. 6) That this doctrine need not be a stumbling block to an inquisitive, searching mind, so long as numbers one through five are genuinely embraced.

Scott J said...

II. A chain of interconnected truths that Catholics hold, all of which need to be in place, in order to have a faith in the holy Eucharist that is both authentic and not offensive to reason. . .

A. Divine Revelation contains truths which, while not contrary to human reason, go beyond what mankind could discover by unaided natural reason alone. Once such truths are revealed by God, man can then use his natural reason upon them, aided by grace, to explore and understand them more deeply, though the depth of his understanding will always be subject to human limitations.

B. Sacred Scripture is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. It is authored primarily by the Holy Spirit, and secondarily by men (i.e. it is the Word of God in the words of men), who wrote everything and only those things which God wanted recorded in writing, all to serve the purpose of our salvation.

C. The Gospels record true history about the words and deeds of Jesus Christ.

D. The Catholic Church has the authority, given her by Christ and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit, to teach infallibly the doctrines of the Christian faith and about the truths of human morality. This includes authentically interpreting the meaning of Sacred Scripture regarding faith and morals.

E. Christ spoke about His body and blood as represented in the Gospel accounts. The meaning of these words about His body and blood are as the Catholic church (as witness to the ancient and unbroken Christian belief) verifies: the bread and wine consumed in the Eucharistic feast have truly become the real body and blood of the resurrected body of Jesus Christ under the appearances of bread and wine, such that the complete substance of the bread and wine is changed into the body and blood of Christ and nothing remains of bread and wine except the outward appearance.

F. This is the one same faith in the holy Eucharist (no matter what specific words have been used over the years to describe it) that has always been held by Christians beginning with the apostles, handed down to this day, and will remain the same Eucharistic faith until the end of time.

Scott J said...

Damien, you asked, "What is the philosophy behind this?"

Just to answer this directly though it is contained in my above remarks. . .

The philosophy is: God can do anything He wants. He is not restricted in His actions by the limits of human reason. He can tell us He has done something even as it is not possible for us to entirely understand how or why. He always acts for our benefit, regardless of whether we can understand His actions. Accepting something He tells us is true is not a violation of human reason even if we can't understand it to our satisfaction, because our minds are not equal to God's. Such a situation is not a violation of the natural order of things either, for it is normal and to be expected that there would be some things within the sphere of divine action that a mere created being could not comprehend as God does. In other words, there must be some actions of the Creator that appear mysterious to His creatures.

Damien said...

@flexo - Your final question "How is it possible that the world itself exists?" is at the core of why I believe that there is a God. Everything has a beginning and it all had to come from somewhere. God being a perfect scientist, the first one, the one who created science, I always believed he had started it all. And thank you for your words of encouragement.

@matt g - While scientific evidence would be awesome, I am also more realistic. Hence in one of my original posts I painted the picture about the pew, how I have faith sitting in one because I know the foundation of how one is put together. I don't pretend to fully understand the physics of the angles or the pressure and forces exerted, but I understand the underlying principles which then allow me to exercise a faith in something. I think the three of you have really given me a ton to ponder. Before, in the past when I asked this question, I received just Bible verses... but you are giving me the real substance of the belief and this is really exactly and I really mean EXACTLY what I am desiring.

@scott j - I have been reading these comments several times now. A lot of what the three of you are saying makes so much sense to me. My next question was going to be about mysteries, but you really explained that as well. I had to read your comments twice now, I am trying to just absorb all of this now and I am really glad I asked this in a blog setting and I am also really thankful that you all have taken the time to answer my questions so perfectly for me. I read your comments on past posts over and over again as well. It helps me concentrate and ponder and consider.

This question was the hardest one for me in all honesty.

Scott J said...

III. Old Testament precursors and foreshadowings of the Eucharist. . .

A. The Manna in the desert. (Exodus 16) There are very interesting parallels between the manna provided by God to the Israelites as they wandered in the desert, and the future body and blood of Christ. The manna is “bread from heaven” (16:4); the Eucharist is “bread from heaven” (John 6). In both cases it is provided (sent down) by God, and, necessary for life. However, the former was needed for bodily life on earth; the latter for spiritual life in eternity. In both cases, the “bread” is spoken of as a real, physical item that is chewed as any other bread is chewed and eaten. In both cases, the bread is provided not just one time, but every day on an ongoing basis for the continued sustenance of bodily and spiritual life, respectively. And in both cases, the bread provides salvation for God’s people. The desert exodus event saved the Israelites by liberating them from slavery in Egypt. The bread from heaven kept them alive as God brought them out of this slavery into a new life in a new place. The Eucharist will save the followers of Christ from eternal death, giving them what their soul needs for a new, eternal life.

So, in John 6, Jesus deliberately uses the background of manna in the desert to speak of the new bread he will provide, knowing that the manna provides a pattern of “bread from heaven” given daily by God for the life of His people, in a physical form to be eaten and swallowed. He takes this background, keeps these main elements intact, while at the same time transforming and elevating the bread from the simple manna of old, to the holy Eucharist of His “flesh,” which provides food unto eternal life. He retains the aspects of physicality and physical eating to be done on an ongoing basis. But this new bread is food for heaven, integral to the new future life of the resurrected body.

Also, note the detail of the jar of manna which was placed in the ark within the tabernacle (tent) (Ex 16:33; Heb 9:4). Here, we have “bread from heaven” reserved in the ark within the tent, the special place where God dwelt among His people, the Israelites. This is a precursor of the Eucharist, the new “bread from heaven” which is now kept in tabernacles in Catholic churches around the world—the new place where God dwells among His people (in a more perfect, literal fashion) until He comes again. The Eucharist in tabernacles within Catholic churches was prepared for by the symbolism of the manna in the ark in the tabernacle in the desert (later the temple). Note again, the physicality of both.

B. The Passover event and the subsequent feast (Exodus 12). The topic of the Passover as a precursor to the Eucharistic feast is deep and vast. But briefly proceeding, here are a few of the main threads to get you started. The Passover event (see c. 12) is described in some detail. And the feast of the Passover instituted by God to commemorate the original passing over shares important details with the original event—details which are yet preserved even as Christ transforms the old into a new Passover to be celebrated by the consumption of the new Lamb of God.

In the original Passover, the following ritual elements had to be observed so that the angel of death would pass over the Israelite households: a sacrificial animal had to be sacrificed, and then its flesh had to be eaten. The animal had to be an unblemished male, and none of its bones could be broken. It was to be eaten as a preparation for a near-impending journey. The Passover feast preserved the elements of using an unblemished male, to be eaten after being sacrificed. This sacrifice resulted in a salvation for the Israelites—salvation from the death that otherwise would have been visited upon them in the night by the angel.

Now, consider Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Lamb of God, an unblemished (free from all sin) male, who was sacrificed on our behalf (and none of His bones broken). This sacrifice resulted in the salvation of the New Israel (the Church)—salvation from spiritual death, which is a consequence of sin. But, what else is required? Just as with the old Passover, with the new Passover (the Lord’s Supper—the Eucharistic offering), in order for us to be saved, we must eat the flesh of the sacrificial lamb! In the new order brought about by Christ, eating the flesh (i.e. the body and blood) of the sacrificial Lamb (who is Christ Himself) must take place, or the new life which we need for eternal life, will not be in us. And again, as before, for both the original event, the Jewish feast, and the new Passover (i.e. the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the eating of His flesh in the Eucharistic feast), there is a rather consistent physicality. The flesh of the lamb is literally eaten—chewed and swallowed, in every case. If the lamb is not eaten, the benefit of the new life brought about by the sacrifice is not applied. [Also note, Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper—the Eucharistic sacrifice (the Mass)—on the feast of the Passover. The old was transformed into the new, in which the animal sacrifice was replaced by the sacrifice of the new Lamb—Christ. But, the Lamb is still to be eaten.]

There is a lot more that could be said here. I didn’t even try to get into the blood symbolism, and the fact that bread is also part of the old Passover. But I think this is perhaps a start. Read Exodus 12 and 16, and then read John 6, taking careful note of the details in both, how they are similar, and also what is transformed and elevated in moving from the old covenant to the new. Awesome stuff!

capital-G-geek said...

Sorry to hear about your grandmother. It's hard too lose someone around holidays. My grandfather died Christmas eve, when I was in 5th grade. It's hard, especially for a kid, to be both happy about the holiday, and sad about the loss. Adults don't always handle it any better. On the plus side, family is usually gathered or available then, which makes it easier.

Now, on to your question. I will try to answer without offending, but I doubt it will be entirely possible.

Jesus first foreshadows the Lord's supper after He had multiplied the food and fed the 5000 men (and additional women and children) (John 6:10-14) His disciples had left by boat, and he followed, and calmed the storm (16-21). The next day, the people that had been fed took to boats and followed them to Capernaum (24-25). Jesus knew that their motivation for following was because he fed them, and they were again hungry, and he explains that food is temporary, but salvation through Him is permanent (26-27). The crowd asks what God wants them to do, and Jesus says simply to believe in Jesus (28-29). The crowd asks for a sign, and 'reminds' Jesus that Moses fed them (30-31). Jesus reminds them that Moses didn't give them the mana, God did, and that now God had given them Him.
Joh 6:32-33 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.
The crowd answers that they want this heavenly bread forever.
Joh 6:34 Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.
Note: I am unsure at this point if the crowd had understood his analogy and are using it, or if they are still ignorant of it, wanting to be physically fed.
Jesus calls himself the bread of life, but some that have seen don't believe. He came to do the will of God, and God's will is that everyone that sees Him and believes on him, will live eternally.
Joh 6:35-40 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.
This offends some, because they recognize that he is claiming to be the Christ - not that he said he was bread, but that he came down from heaven.
Joh 6:41-42 The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven?
Jesus then tells them that if they don't believe, then God didn't call them (note: these were likely the most outwardly religious people in the area, since they were in the Synogogue (ref v:59), probably including pharisees.) Jesus continues the analogy to the point that some of his disciples begin murmuring.
Joh 6:60 Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is a hard saying; who can hear it?
He responds that he was speaking of the spirit, that some don't believe, and that only those that God reveals it to will understand.
Joh 6:61-65 When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
They were offended, NOT confused. They clearly understood that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, and the only path to God. The ones that would not accept it departed. Simon Peter and rest stayed because they believed that he was the Christ.
John 6:69 And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.

When Jesus talks about bread, He is not talking about physical bread but spiritual bread. Just as he is talking about spiritual, not physical death. Proof of this is that everyone dies physically, even those who have eaten what they believed to be Christ's physical body.

The Lord's supper is actually a continuation of the passover and sacrifice instituted by Moses. The blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled on the Ark of the covenant, and the bodies of the animals were burned whole (ref Lev 16:4-34). No part of them was consumed, and any that touched them had to ceremonially wash. This differed from the pagan religions, who consumed sacrificed animals ( 1 Corinthians 8)
And non-Jewish Christians were forbidden from partaking of blood (ref Acts 15:20, 29, 21:25)

The passover and sacrifice looked forward to Christ's crucifixion, the Lord's supper looks back to it. It is ENTIRELY symbolic. Perhaps the clearest proof that it is symbolic occurs during the first Lord's supper itself. Jesus broke bread and called it his body, and took a cup of wine and called it his blood (Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20). Obviously if He was there, He could have but didn't offer them his flesh to eat, or open a vein to fill the cup.

The idea of transubstantiation and mass is that of a re-sacrificing Christ often. Christ's work of redemption was done once, never to be repeated or needed again
Recreating the sacrifice of Christ is unnecessary (ref Heb 9:12, 24-28, 10:10, )

And to flexo's question 'how is it that the world exists?'
I think you mean universe, not world. And that's quite simple. Uni meaning single, and verse meaning phrase. A single spoken phrase caused everything to exist.

Flexo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Flexo said...

I will try to answer without offending, but I doubt it will be entirely possible

Capital-g-geek -- you do not offend, but if the object of Damien's question is to clarify Catholic teaching on the Eucharist, it must be made absolutely clear that neither do you present Catholic teaching. What you state may be the understanding of some Protestant denominations, but just so that no one is misled or confused here, we must make it clear that it is not the teaching of the Catholic Church, which takes the words of Jesus literally. Indeed, in some areas, what you say is directly contrary to Catholic teaching.

As for what the Catholic Church does teach, I will add a few reflections of my own on that later today (Sunday).

Flexo said...

OK, I was going to add merely a few comments of my own to the fine explanations already given, but when I started wrting, it began taking on the dimensions of a treatise on the subject. So, I'll not be able to post a full answer this time. However, so that I at least get something down, I will for now simply say a few words on the issue of "proof," some of which has been covered by others, and leave tradition, philosophy, and the rest for tomorrow --

Previously I mentioned the issue of how it was possible, and just exactly how much proof was to be expected, inasmuch as there are so many other things in life that would seem to be impossible or we cannot explain. How is it that the universe exists? It shouldn't, but it does. The secular agnostic/athiest scientist says, we don't know how exactly, it just does. A Christian or Jew or Muslim would say that it exists because God says it exists. (And the Catholic would say that the Real Presence is true for the same reason.)

How is it that some physical matter is somehow able move about and interact with the environment and even reproduce, i.e. is alive? How is it that the mass of hydro-carbons reading this sentence is able to have a shared understanding with the writer and to form independent thought, and how does it have autonomy and a will, so as to be able to choose to continue reading? How are we able to do these things if, in a purely material world, we have no more significance than a rock? All of these things are clearly impossible -- and yet, they are so. They are mysteries, suffice to say that the ultimate reality of a person or a thing is not always what it appears to be on the surface. If this is true throughout life, we should not be surprised that it is so with the Eucharist as well.

I cannot logically understand or wrap my mind around it enough to just accept it on faith. What is the philosophy behind this? the tradition behind this? and for the love of all that is good... is there any proof?

Well, to speak of “the love of all that is good” is to be on the right track because the answers to the questions of the mystery of the actual Body and Blood of Christ – the who, why, what, where, when, and how of the Eucharist -- may be found where the answers to most questions of the Faith are found – in Love and in Truth. The answers to this great mystery can only be found (a) in Love, the nature of love itself, as well as the love of God and love for God, and (b) in Truth, the truth of Jesus Christ and the truth of who we are as human persons.

What is the proof that the Eucharist is the Real Presence? What is your evidence?

First, a word about “proof” -- while reason and observation of the physical world (scientific-style proof) may take us quite far on the question of the Real Presence, because we are speaking of things that are beyond this world, ultimately we must turn to faith to enlighten our reason, specifically, the revealed truth of things that go beyond and transcend our limited physical understanding of reality and being. Such revelation is found in the Bible.

In the law, we prove things by the testimony of witnesses and, for the Catholic, the proof is this –- because Jesus said so. It’s as simple and direct as that. But in addition to that, we have the understanding of the Apostles and the early Church, as well as the understanding of the Jews and of the Romans.

Others have explained in detail some of the various scriptural references, so I will only highlight a few. First, the Eucharist is hinted at in the life and ministry of Jesus. Indeed, on the night of His birth, the baby Jesus is laid in the manger. When we reflect upon what a manger is, we understand that this was not merely a sign of His birth into a humble life. A manger is the box holding the hay that is eaten by the animals in the stable. It is a food trough, and the placement of Jesus in the manger, as if He were food himself, prefigures the Eucharist itself.

Of course, the doctrine of the Real Presence is explicitly set forth in the “bread of life” discourse. If it were only symbolic, the people who actually heard it when it was said by Jesus would not have reacted by turning away in disgust, saying "This teaching is too hard. Who can listen to it?" (John 6:60) They certainly thought He was being literal. Indeed, when the people were initially unsure of what He meant by claiming that He was the bread of life, instead of assuring them that he only meant it as a metaphor, He not only spoke even more explicitly about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, He emphasized it by saying “Truly, truly, I say to you . . .”

At the Last Supper, Jesus is again quite direct in appropriating the elements of the Passover meal, the unleavened bread and wine, saying “This is by body . . . this is my blood,” and we must take Him at His word that He meant what He said and said what He meant. Jesus knew how to speak metaphorically, and if He meant it merely as a symbol, He certainly would have said so. It has been suggested that, if Jesus meant His actual body, “He could have but didn't offer them his flesh to eat, or open a vein to fill the cup.” But that would not then be the Eucharist, but cannibalism, and the Eucharist is NOT cannibalism, and Christians are not ghouls, notwithstanding the later accusations of the Romans. Besides, the Body that is the Eucharist is not pre-crucifixion, but post-Resurrection. More on these points later, when we meditate in greater detail on the nature of the Real Presence.

As said before, the Apostles and early Church understood Jesus to be speaking literally. For example, Paul writes about the Real Presence and Justin Martyr writes in chapter 66 of his First Apology --

And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.

Now, the pagan Romans later thought that the Christians took the words of Jesus literally, going so far as to accuse them of cannibalism. Stating things in mere poetic symbolism would not be enough to get you scourged and crucified, nor would it have been enough to have your followers martyred.

Finally, you have the testimony of believers over the last 2,000 years. You have the testimony of those who have not only received Communion, but those who have merely been close by the Eucharist and had a palpable sense or feeling of the presence of some indescribable Other.

That is enough at present. Later, in considering the "what" a little more, as well as reflecting some upon the "why" of the Eucharist -- to try to make sense of it all -- perhaps such beginnings of understanding will make the impossible seem to be just a little more plausible, if not obviously true.

Gregory Kong said...

I think one of the problems Catholics and Protestants have with each other is the terminology used, as well as the emphasis we have on rites vs 'DIY', so to speak.

I am unconvinced that just because Jesus didn't change His teaching about Him being true bread, He was speaking about physical bread. Jesus' teachings were all very hard, and this was not the only one the Jewish authorities and people found hard to swallow (pardon the pun). But anyway, that's beside the point.

Jesus, in one of the 7 great I AM passages, also says that He is the true vine, and we are the branches. Are we to assume that when we eat the bread we not only eat Jesus' body but also a vine? Indeed, I always found it strange that the Body of Christ partakes of the body of Christ. :)

No, I believe that RCs and Protestants both believe the same thing; it's just that we do not use the same words to describe it. Indeed, Jesus is true food; His body and His blood is true nourishment that transcends merely physical bread and wine, and when we partake of the Eucharist, we not only commemorate His death until He comes, but we also reaffirm our dependence on Him as our life's source, and in true spirit of Communion, reaffirm with each other our shared faith and Saviour.

I guess this is the same way I treat confession; our sins have been paid for once for all on the cross, but we should continually confess our sins and remind ourselves that God has already forgiven us, and stay in a state of repentance.

What do my Catholic brethren think?

Scott J said...

Gregory,

I appreciate your desire to debate, but I would like to respectfully suggest that you refrain from using this blog as a place for you to engage in your own personal Catholic/Protestant argument.

I say this because this is Damien's blog, and he set up this discussion specifically as a place for him to ask his own questions. This is not the same goal as trying to argue against Catholics that they are wrong about this or that item of Catholic teaching. I seems rather bad manners to turn this blog into a Catholic vs. Protestant debate.

It would certainly be appropriate if you try to answer Damien's questions directly with your own explanations. But, to argue with Catholics rather than simply responding to Damien it seems to me is not appropriate here. (And no, this is not an attempt to run away from an argument. I'm just saying there is a time and a place for that. . .)

Damien is open to hear what Catholicism teaches and is asking honest questions with an open mind. By way of contrast, you seem to be closed to explanations that don't fit your current understanding, and seem to want to engage in some sort of endeavor to score points in debate. I'm sure we could all do that at some length, but it is not the same thing as what Damien asks of us here. At least this is my opinion.

There are tons of places on the internet where you can argue with Catholics about Catholic teaching all day and all night. Is it fitting to do that here, thus turning this blog into something other than what the owner intends?

Damien, correct me if I am wrong. I am not at all suggesting that Protestants should not participate here (nor am I against Catholic-Protestant debate in general so long as it is entered into with sincere motives on both sides).

But, I would like to suggest and to encourage everyone that it would perhaps be best (and the most help to Damien) if we simply try to respond to Damien's questions rather than to engage in our own private Catholic-Protestant debate on the side.

Flexo said...

I cannot logically understand or wrap my mind around it enough to just accept it on faith. What is the philosophy behind this?

The answers to the questions of the Real Presence are to be found in Love and Truth, the two fundamental themes that run throughout the salvation history that is recorded in the Bible, and which are attributes of God Himself.

What is the truth of God? Again, although we can reason from observation and experience certain aspects of God, since He is so other worldly, it is imperative to look to those truths which have been revealed by Him if we are to gain a more satisfactory understanding. In the Bible, God reveals his name to be “I am” (Ex 3:13-15), i.e. the Ultimate Reality; He is Being itself and is therefore Truth itself. Indeed, if something lacks truth, it lacks reality and existence. This Truth is the first principle from which all else follows. He is not merely philosophical truth, not merely a cosmic force, but a personal being. God, that is to say, Jesus Christ, is also the Word, that is, Logos (Creative Reason), and as such, is again Truth itself from which everything that exists proceeds. (Jn. 1:1-5) Jesus is not only God in a spiritual sense, He is God incarnate, God become man. Fully God, yet fully human, united in one. And yet again, God is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of all things. In Him, all things are made new. (Rev 21:1-7). He exists beyond and outside of space -- the physical universe – and because time is a measurement of changes in space, He exists outside of time. He is pure, infinite, unbounded spirit -- a non-corporeal transcendent being. For God, time is not linear, as for humans, but is both a singularity and a totality – all moments exist simultaneously and each moment exists in perpetuity.

However, God is not merely Truth, He is also Love. (1 Jn. 4:8) This is demonstrated again and again in salvation history. Now, love is by its very nature relational – it necessarily requires an “other.” Love does not exist in a vacuum. Accordingly, God is not one-dimensional, but exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – a Holy Trinity – this is how He can be One God yet three Persons.

What is the truth of man? Man is a created being; he is not the accidental product of random forces of nature, and he is not the product of spontaneous animation of matter. Because we were and are created in truth and love, which is necessarily relational, human beings are social creatures, male and female, complementing and needing each other. (Gen. 1-2). Mankind was not created as merely a physical entity, like a stone, and God did not create us as merely spiritual beings, like the angels; rather, He created us with a unified soul-infused body, which comprises one nature of spirit and matter, both transcendent and temporal. To be made in the image of God also means that we are persons with an inherent dignity, not things, and that we are possessed with sentience and free will, as well as the capacity for reason and for love. Indeed, we exist to love and to be loved in truth. That was, and is, God’s plan for humanity; that is the meaning of life -- to live in the truth and love and be loved.

Now, God is Love, that is to say, love in the most perfect and complete sense, love in its totality. Not merely a lukewarm passive love, but a “passionate” and intimate kind of love. One of the themes in the Old Testament to describe God’s love for mankind is the spousal relationship. And, indeed, in our own lives, marriage is generally recognized as the highest and most personal and intimate kind of love.

Thus, because God loves us, as the name Emmanuel suggests, He wanted to be “with us,” and among us – not only at a single point in time, but always and forever. Indeed, after His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus assured us that He would be with us always, to the end of time. Now, Jesus is indeed with us in a number of ways. He is not merely with us in our thoughts and in our prayers, He is not merely with us in the word that is written on the pages of the Bible, He is also with us always by and through His Holy Spirit, which we might call “grace.” Catholics would add that Jesus is with us as well in the sacraments. In the most obvious sense, Jesus is with us in the Eucharist. The Blessed Sacrament is His Real Presence, Body and Blood.

Let us get to the heart of the matter – Why? Why should Jesus make the bread and wine into His literal flesh and blood?

Remember the truth of the human person. We are not merely spiritual creatures, but bodily creatures as well. Sitting at home or walking in outside or any number of places we can pray to Jesus and, in that way, obtain a certain spiritual communion with Him. We can experience a spiritual touching with Jesus. But to only touch Jesus spiritually is to only touch Him with only a part of ourselves, not our entire person; it is to be in communion only partially, not completely. Through the Eucharist in the one Mass, according to his Word, Jesus is with us, not merely spiritually or theoretically or as a philosophy, but physically, such that we, as bodily creatures who experience things through our senses, can be united with Him bodily, as well as spiritually. In a profoundly intimate way, we take His Body into our bodies. Only in this way is the totality of our person, body and spirit, able to be one with Him, Body and Spirit, fully and completely. Again, because we are creatures of both spirit and body, to receive Him in the entirety of our person, it is essential that we also experience the Body and Blood of Christ, which can be received only at Mass, in addition to His Spirit, which can be experienced at home. Only in this way can the Eucharist be truly called Holy Communion.

Moreover, consider in our everyday lives what it means to be truly intimate. Friends and even siblings certainly can be close, and great and intense love can exist between them, but they cannot be truly and fully intimate. There can only be such intimacy in marriage and motherhood. Marital intimacy entails a touching of each other's souls, a touching of each other's very being and, because the truth of the human person is that we are bodily beings, we can more easily, and often best, approach that spiritual uniting by physical touching, whether that touch is a hug, or a holding of the hand, or the caress of the face, or more. And there is nothing more physically intimate than one being inside another, either as between husband and wife, or the child within a mother’s womb.

The encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist is not the encounter of a friend or a mentor or a teacher. It is a parental and spousal encounter of love. It is because the Eucharist is the Real Presence that such an encounter is the most intimate of intimate touchings. The person literally takes Christ within him- or herself both bodily and spiritually, so as to become one with Him in a mystical fashion, as in marriage, which also involves entering into another bodily and spiritually so as to become one in a communion of persons (unitative) and so as to receive life (procreative).

Wait just a minute! Are you really making such a comparison? Are you not profaning and disrespecting the Eucharist, which is supposed to be holy?? I know I said knock me off my feet, but . . . wow! This seems rather sacrilegious and scandalous.

No. Properly understood, this does not degrade or diminish the Eucharist, but raises up human sexuality to its proper level. (This reflection is already rather long, so we will leave the Theology of the Body for another day.) The Eucharist, because of the Real Presence, permits the reception of the Host to be a profoundly intimate encounter so as to attain a oneness with Christ in the totality of our persons and thereby receive life.

The food that we receive in Communion is not ordinary food, but extra-ordinary food. It is the bread of life; not merely earthly life, but the real life – life eternal in the one who is love and truth. Eating a slice of every day bread, be it Wonder sliced bread or a freshly baked French baguette, and drinking a glass of every day wine, even when that wine is Château Lafite-Rothschild, is still ordinary in every sense and not at all spiritual. Neither Wonder nor baguette nor Lafite-Rothschild are endowed with a spirit, and so an encounter with them cannot be spiritual, and calling alcoholic beverages "spirits" does not make them spiritual. No matter how delicious and breath-taking they may be, such bread and wine are still totally grounded in the body. You cannot commune with them. Only when bread and wine are consecrated to become Eucharist, do such "eating" and "drinking" become extra-ordinary and transcendent of the body to the spiritual.

How does this transubstantiation happen? How do bread and wine become the actual Body and Blood of Jesus?

This has been mentioned before, but basically --
(a) With respect to the natural physical process, transubstantiation is what is called a “mystery.” The Church recognizes that we human beings are limited in our capacity and ability to understand certain things, and it does not even attempt to provide a complete answer for all things. Instead, it accepts that some things remain a mystery, known to and knowable by God alone. However, this should not trouble us, because there are many things in life that neither science nor philosophy can fully explain either.
(b) With respect to the supernatural process, the transformation of bread and wine into Body and Blood of Christ occur the same way that the world itself was created – by the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” (John 1:1-3) And so it was that “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth . . . God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Gen. 1:1-3) In like fashion, the priest at Mass, acting, not as himself, but in persona Christi, says the words of Christ at the Last Supper, “This is my body . . . This is my blood,” and by the Word, Christ’s Real Presence comes to be with us.

Now, it is important to know that the consecration of the bread and wine at Mass to become the Blessed Sacrament is NOT a re-sacrificing of Jesus. There is only One Mass, and there is only One Sacrifice, which is re-presented, that is, presented again. Remember, God transcends time and space, so that, not only does He extend across our concept of linear time, but for Him, specific points in time continue to exist forever. Thus, the Passion and Crucifixion were not isolated events in some distant past. Rather, His sacrifice is an on-going event. He is not crucified again and again, but is one sacrifice. He is perpetually being scourged, eternally on the Cross. In the Mass, in some mystical but true way, we transcend space and time and are made present at the Last Supper, we are made present at the foot of the Cross. And because we partake of His glorified Resurrected Body and Blood, so too are we made present at the Resurrection, and made One with He who rose to eternal life.

(cross posted at --
http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com/)

Scott J said...

Flexo, thanks for this excellent post (and all your posts have been very good)!

Damien, I think God's grace is definitely active in your life because you are getting better and more clear Catholic material here than can be had in a number of other venues of higher prestige.

In this comment I just want to continue a little bit dwelling upon a very important line of thought flexo began above in regard to eternity.

A very common charge (a straw man, really, when you read what the Catholic Church actually teaches) against Catholics is that we think that the Mass is a re-sacrificing of Christ each time it is celebrated, thus violating the principle of the New Covenant that Christ's sacrifice is totally sufficient and offered once and for all.

Ahhh. This accusation makes some sense if you ignore the difference between time and eternity and the very important fact that while we mere human beings, while in this earthly life, are bounded by time--we cannot escape it totally. And, likewise, Jesus Christ, though fully man, is also fully God. This has tremendous consequences for any action performed by Christ. Jesus Christ, when He acts, is NOT bounded by the restrictions of time, even though He took to Himself a human body and thus lived in time like us. He lived in time, without being restricted by it like we are. From the very first moment of the Incarnation when the Word of God became man--He was able to act as a man within time. Yet, always, as God, His actions were (and are) effective in the realm of eternity, never restricted by the shackles of time though taking place within it.

We easily disregard how significant this is because we do not experience in our own lives a concurrence of both temporal and eternally omnipotent significance in all the actions that we perform. (Though, let's not forget, as flexo mentioned, we are also creatures whose actions have transcendent consequences that do indeed go beyond the limits of time; yet, our acts are not all-powerful and we do not experience them as eternal from within our present experience of life).

I want to stress this dual, within-time-yet-eternally-effective aspect of Christ's earthly acts because it explains how multiple celebrations of the Mass that take place now in time are not multiple re-sacrificings of Christ. Why? The Mass is at its core (as flexo above stated)--an action of Jesus Christ. The priest is specially graced by God to be an instrument of Christ who makes present in the Mass (within time), the one, eternal sacrifice (outside of time) of His Body and Blood. We, because in this life we are temporal creatures, experience Mass (and all the sacraments) from a perspective of time-boundedness. However, Jesus Christ, the primary agent who makes the Mass possible, is not bound in this way.

So, from the perspective of Jesus Christ (who is the eternal Word and king of all creation), the Mass (like other actions of Jesus when He was on earth before His bodily Ascension to heaven) is a both-and sort of event. It is a divine action, that while deigning to allow a mere human priest to participate as an instrumental agent, is an action that is both in time, and beyond time.

The Holy Mass exempt from the ordinary characteristics of earthly actions. Because, like Jesus, like the Incarnation, it is both a human and divine act. As such, it is, in fact at the crossroads of heaven and earth. Each individual celebration of the Mass is, in a mysterious way, something that participates in (is united to in a real way) the one eternally effective sacrifice of Jesus Christ on behalf of mankind which is an event that occurred "once" because it completely blows apart any boundaries of time. And yet, we are there at Mass also in time, on a specific day in history at a certain time of day and place.

Perhaps we might think of the time-eternity intersection here a little bit like a bicycle wheel. The single central hub to which all the spokes are attached as they come together at the same place holds it all together. Any spoke that comes apart from the hub falls out and loses its function in the whole. There are many spokes, but only a single hub. Likewise, there are many points in time (the spokes) at which the Mass is celebrated on earth now since the Ascension of Christ. But, there is only one true sacrifice--the eternally significant event holding together all Masses and giving them their sole source of eternal efficacy; the hub, the one sacrifice of Christ, to which every Mass is integrally linked.

The connection may seem foolish or impossible or some sort of philosophical mumbo-jumbo if we treat the actions of Jesus as having the same limits as our actions--as if He were human only and not also God. But when we never forget that He is also God and how much this matters for every moment of His human existence, we should have no problem accepting that Jesus Christ was certainly capable of establishing an action which He would continue to perform through human beings in time that is concurrently of eternal and universally cosmic significance.

How easily we make the mistake of limiting Christ by our limits, forgetting that He truly is God and man together and that He can act simultaneously as both God and man (eternal and within time, even as He is the creator and Lord of time itself).

I think, when the above is taken into careful account, there is no problem accepting the Mass as a participation in time through human instruments, of the one, eternal sacrifice of Jesus.

Scott J said...

Continuing now this same line of thought, I want to offer a few very rich, intriguing, and mysterious verses of Sacred Scripture, as an inducement to go further in pondering this amazing reality of Jesus Christ and His actions being both in time and beyond/outside of time. Please forgive me if I repeat something already given by others above.

It is best to read them in context in a Bible. But, I can't resist just placing a few of them here. I note that flexo above already mentioned the extremely important few verses at the start of the Gospel of John (the prologue).

From the Gospel of John, chapter 1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. . .

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. . .

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. . .

John bore witness to him, and cried, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.'"

Along with these I would also read and pray over the wonderful hymn about Christ in Philippians 2:6-11.

And, then, I suggest prayerfully meditating over the beautiful Psalm 104, on the glories of creation (starting, "bless the Lord, my soul").

Also, I would like to point out the frequent use by Jesus of "I am" in John 6. Often in the Gospel of John, "I am" (Greek, ego eimiis not simply a pronoun followed by a linking verb. The significance in John of these two words on Jesus' lips is far greater. Jesus (as any devout Jew) knew very well that these words were stamped indelibly upon the soul of the Jewish people--words, which, because God revealed them to the Israelites as His very name, set them apart from all other peoples of the world from then on: "I AM" (Ex 3:13-15).

I would also like to point out the use of "flesh" in John 6. The Greek word here is sarx. (see verses 51, "The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh," 52, 53, 54, 55, and 56). Note that this is the exact same word used in Jn 1:14, "and the Word became flesh [sarx] and dwelt among us." This term especially emphasizes the authentic human nature of Christ, which includes a real physical body with its human limits and weakness (gets tired, hungry, etc.). The word used in the prologue to denote human corporeal nature (flesh), is the same word used when Jesus says in chapter 6 that the bread He will give is His flesh, etc.

And a second term I want to mention along with "flesh," in the bread of life discourse, is the specific verb translated as "eat" occurring in verse 54 (a different Gk verb is used in the rest of the passage for "eat"--it means 'to eat' in a more general sense). Here in verse 54, the Greek is a participle from the verb trogo. It means, specifically, to munch, gnaw, or chew. The physical action of the mouth chewing (associated with munching sounds) is the reference here.

And so, in verse 54, after people argued among themselves about "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" (52) Jesus not only comes right back at them and repeats with greater emphasis that his flesh is real food and if they do not eat his flesh they will have no life in them (53), he shifts the way he speaks about eating his flesh, from a more generic meaning of "to eat" (phago) to the more particular meaning of munch/chew/gnaw (trogo).

Beginning in verse 48, Jesus shifts His emphasis in the discourse from belief and faith, to eating. But, there are two ways He speaks of eating. In verses 49-53, every time the English is translated as "eat" (verses 49, 50, 51, 52, and 53), the underlying Greek is a form of the verb phago ("to eat"). But, starting in verse 54, and continuing from 54 to the end of the discourse in 58, every time the English is translated as "eat," the underlying Greek is trogo (to munch/chew/gnaw). And the shift is complete. Every occurrence of what is given in English as "eat" from verses 54-58 (54,56, 57, 58) actually carries the meaning, no longer of "eat" in a more general sense, but, "chew" in a more physical, graphic sense. So, before the Jews argued about what Jesus meant by giving them His flesh to eat, Jesus told them anyone who "eats" this bread (His flesh) will live forever. Then, after they argued among themselves, He takes things up a notch, and shifts His meaning to say that not only must they "eat" His flesh to have eternal life--they must "chew" His flesh to have eternal life!

No wonder they wanted to leave Him at this point! (verse 60).

And so, note again that the root meaning of the word for flesh used consistently through the whole passage (sarx) is the soft tissue of a human being other than the bones (just like what we mean when we say "His flesh was hanging off his bones.") So, in the last section of the discourse, Jesus literally is saying, "whoever chews on my soft body tissues and drinks my blood lives in me and I in him."

Now, the meaning of Jesus here is probably a bit more subtle and not quite this super-literal meaning. But, he means something very close to this hyper-literal meaning because of the way he reacts to the crowd's unbelief (as someone else explained already). He is probably speaking of "flesh"--not quite in the super-literal meaning of "soft body tissues"--but nonetheless with the very specific and definite meaning of "real physical body."

Scott J said...

OK, now that I have said all the above, someone should say a word about the charge of cannibalism (which, given how I laid things out, would seem a more and more legitimate accusation against Catholics). And, indeed, Christians were accused by pagans of being cannibals in the early Church for the way they spoke of the Eucharist (what with all this "chewing" and "eating" of "flesh" going on). No merely symbolic interpretation here.

So, why is the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist not equivalent to cannibalism?

For at least three reasons.

1) The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ which we truly receive in the Eucharist is not the dead body of Christ. Cannibals eat dead flesh. The Eucharist is the living body and blood of Christ (see Jn 6:51 "living bread"). And this, not His pre-resurrection body--but His resurrected, glorious, eternally living body that has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven.

2) The form in which Christ's body is given to us is under the appearance of bread and wine. The physical appearance makes a difference. Cannibals don't eat bread-looking stuff. By a supernatural grace of God, the Eucharist retains the appearance of bread and wine, although it is not bread and wine in its actual substance.

3) The corporeal nature (or, more accurate, the real substantial nature) of the Eucharist, is a kind of nature such that when the Eucharist is consumed, Jesus' physical, fleshly body in heaven is not diminished in any way. For this, think of the Last Supper. At the Last Supper, Jesus truly gave the Apostles His body and blood to eat in the form of bread and wine (Note: His living, resurrected body; and recall here Jesus' freedom from the boundaries of time). Yet, His pre-crucifixion earthly body was there also. How could this happen? I have no idea. This is one of those areas where we struggle to do our best, but in the end admit that God is sovereign and can do things that we have no equivalent experience of and are far beyond our power and our intellect to comprehend. How Jesus can be in heaven bodily and also present all around the world every day in the Eucharist is simply a mystery beyond our ability to understand. I should say here also that the Church teaches that Jesus' presence in the Eucharist all over the world does not multiply His body into many bodies. No matter how many sacred consecrated hosts there are at any point in time around the world, there is only one Body of Christ. We believe these things are so, ultimately, because this is what Jesus has taught us through Revelation and the sure guidance of the Church. And, though they are beyond our comprehension, these things do not violate human reason. In fact, they are a kind of delight and joy to our reason, even while shrouded in mystery. "This is my Body." "My flesh is real food"; etc. "Amen," we respond. He didn't offer an explanation of how this happens. But this need not hinder us from taking great delight in kneeling, embracing these truths with our entire minds, hearts, and souls, saying, "I believe."

Flexo said...

Thanks to Scott, et al. for their contributions -- I'll have to save this page to the hard drive for later study!

I have come across another excellent explanation of the faith (by you-know-who), which is excerpted below --

On Transubstantiation:
Has the teaching about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic gifts not long been refuted, rendered obsolete, by science? . . . First, the word “substance” was used by the Church precisely to avoid the naïveté associated with what we can touch or measure.
In the twelfth century, the mystery of the Eucharist was on the point of being torn apart by two groups, who each in its own way failed to grasp the heart of it.
There were those filled with the thought: Jesus is really there. But “reality,” for them, was simply physical, bodily. Consequently, they arrived at the conclusion: In the Eucharist, we chew on the flesh of the Lord; but therein they were under the sway of a serious misapprehension. For Jesus has risen. We do not eat flesh, as cannibals would do.
That is why others quite rightly opposed them, arguing against such primitive “realism.” But they, too, had fallen into the same fundamental error of regarding only what is material, tangible, visible as reality. They said: Since Christ cannot be there in a body we can bite on, the Eucharist can only be a symbol of Christ; the bread can only signify the body, but not be the body.
A dispute such as that has helped the Church to develop a more profound understanding of reality.

After wrestling with the difficulty, the insight was made explicit: “Reality” is not just what we can measure. It is not only “quantums,” quantifiable entities, that are real; on the contrary, these are always only manifestations of the hidden mystery of true being. But here, where Christ meets us, we have to do with this true being. This is what was being expressed with the word “substance.” This does not refer to the quantums, but to the profound and fundamental basis of being.
Jesus is not there like a piece of meat, not in the realm of what can be measured and quantified. Anyone who conceives of reality as being like that is deceiving himself about it and about himself. He is living his life all wrong.
That is why this is no [mere] scholarly dispute, but something that affects us ourselves: How should we relate to reality? What is “real”? What should we be like, so as to correspond to what is true?
Concerning the Eucharist, it is said to us: The substance is transformed, that is to say, the fundamental basis of its being. That is what is at stake, and not the superficial category, to which everything we can measure or touch belongs. . . .

What has always mattered to the Church is that a real transformation takes place here. Something genuinely happens in the Eucharist. There is something new there that was not before. . . . Whenever the Body of Christ, that is, the risen and bodily Christ, comes, he is greater than the bread – other, not of the same order. . . . The Lord takes possession of the bread and the wine; he lifts them up, as it were, out of the setting of their normal existence into a new order; even if, from a purely physical point of view, they remain the same, they have become profoundly different. . .
-- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Eucharistie – Mitte der Kirche (Munich, 1978) (republished in God is Near Us (2003)) (emphasis added)

nightfly said...

Elsewhere on the web, somebody had mentioned that there's always somebody more clever... and I replied that there was a mountain of evidence to this effect every time I compared the drivel I type to the stuff I read on good blogs!

This whole thread is something I'm going to have to print out and read about forty times. You guys are tremendous. I'm almost embarrassed by what I was going to say, since you guys have pretty much hit it all.

However - since it may help to have a less-clever recap of some of the big stuff (about two-thirds of which I'm trying to get in my noggin):

The Catholic Church, based on the many Scriptures above, does not consider Eucharist a mere rememberance in the way a Japanese family would remember an ancestor; neither is it (begging Greg Kong's pardon) the way Protestants look at it, as symbol only. We certainly are NOT saying the same thing with different language, though I appreciate the attempt to bridge the gap, as it were.

A Sacrament IS what it symbolizes; it is, much like ourselves, a union of spirit and matter - and the matter matters. God, having made us this way, also knows the way to minister to our needs, and provides it in a tangible way, with material things being channels of grace and blessing.

As a result we have Eucharist. Christ came to save all men, once for all time; but obviously we are rooted in time and cannot be present at this sacrifice in person. God has solved this problem by making the sacrifice present to us, as scott j said above. In the Eucharist, we have a place at the Last Supper with all the other disciples of Christ. The word usually translated as "rememberance" is (I believe) anamnesis - I hope you'll forgive the spelling if it's wrong - the word doesn't just mean "memory" but "to make present again." It is not like looking at a picture or home movie, so much as stepping into that movie and interacting with the people there.

I've heard a lot of explanations to "how it works" but I don't know if I should offer any - it may confuse, and in any case I couldn't back any of them for more than ten minutes without straying into deep water.

As to why He chose a Sacrament over whatever other means we can imagine? I can only speculate. I'm fairly certain, however, that this IS exactly what He did choose. Given the stakes (the highest possible for us, our eternal souls), He still insisted that it really is His actual flesh and blood, despite losing so many of His followers as a result - that strongly implies that He wasn't about to start calling it a symbolic gesture. For the highest stakes of all, He truly became one of us and put His own life at risk with ours. We are truly of His body in every way we can consider: in what He sacrificed to redeem us, in the unity we have with Him in the Eucharist (body and soul, matter and spirit), and in what we hope for after our own death - that we have eaten His Risen Body in life, and that it will work in us to make us like He is, forever beyond death. Union on Earth, union in Heaven - the Head with the Body, inseparable.

There's the temptation to look at the Eucharist as a metaphor, the way Jesus as the Gate or the Vine is a metaphor. After all, a metaphor is just a figure of speech, and we have plenty of those to practice on; we only have the seven Sacraments, and each is in many ways a mystery. Metaphors are easier. But when we actually try to look at it that way it all unravels in front of our eyes. Eucharist as metaphor doesn't work - Eucharist as what He says it is, literally, does.

Personally, I find the great mysteries of faith (such as the Eucharist) demonstrate their truth in their inexhaustibility. We will never master them; God truly is infinite, without limit or barrier, and we will always be renewed in Him - thus eternity will not be an endless tedium but a constant adventure and discovery. Don't be discouraged if this doesn't "settle the question." Heaven itself won't settle the question in that way! We won't reach the end of the answer, but that just means that we will never tire of asking; that we will always have the fun of a child asking "Why?" as if for the first time.

Bender said...

Has anyone yet posted the famous comment by Flannery O'Connor on the subject?

"I was once, five or six years ago, taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy and her husband, Mr. Broadwater. (She just wrote that book, 'A Charmed Life.') She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual. We went at eight and at one, I hadn't opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say. . . . Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them.

"Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the most portable person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, 'Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it.'

"That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable."


I think that most of us fellow Catholics would agree. If the Eucharist is just a symbol, just a metaphor, what's the point? To hell with it.

Scott J said...

Flexo and bender: two great quotes from two great minds! Thank you. It's extraordinary how two thinkers who were very different in background and personality can shine a light on the one same mystery of the Eucharist by two very different approaches that, while so different, are also wonderfully complementary and harmonious. I find this happens in Catholicism often and is yet another of the many delights of being Catholic.

The O'Connor quote reminds me of how I used to feel as a teen going with my family to Protestant (Presbyterian) worship services on Sundays. (If I didn't mention this yet, I am a convert; became Catholic in 1995, praise God!).

For reasons which I could not have explained at the time, I was always quite uncomfortable going to church when I knew there was going to be a communion service that day (which was one Sunday a month and was very "low-church" in character). I didn't mind church on other Sundays. But, I just didn't want to be there when communion was going to be offered (grape juice in little individual thimble cups distributed in trays; small cubes of white wonder bread passed around in baskets: then at same time, eat little cube of bread and drink little thimble of juice). I was very uncomfortable with it. Somewhat like the sentiment expressed by O'Connor, something inside me said, "What is this? How could drinking a little smidge of grape juice and a teeny morsel of white bread in church have any significance for anything?" Honestly, it seemed a little silly to me and somehow inappropriate and even wrong. [Please, I don't mean offense to any tradition that has similar practices. It's just honestly how I reacted.]

And at the time I knew absolutely nothing about Catholicism. Nada. I had no idea that anyone in the world actually believed that there was such a thing as the Eucharist where the bread and wine are transformed into the true Body and Blood of Christ.

Now, in hindsight, I think that somehow I reacted intuitively against a religious use of mere bread and wine that was never anything but mere bread and wine (or, grape juice)--that did not involve a change that would bring about a Real Presence of Jesus Christ's Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, among the gathered worshipers (though I couldn't have put it this way at the time).

It just seemed that the religious significance and reverence given to the moment of consuming what I knew was simply grape juice and Wonder Bread was entirely disproportionate to the reality. "It's just a bit of bread and juice, like I had for breakfast this morning. Who cares? Why all the fuss?" There seemed to be something seriously lacking about communion; something empty (It seemed to me there ought to be something "more" to it; that there had to be something more. . . What, I did not know). I couldn't make any sense of the juxtaposition of first hearing the minister say, using the Biblical terms, that we were eating the body and blood of Christ, and second, eating juice and bread from the grocery store, knowing inwardly, "but it's just grape juice and bread!" And I also knew that everyone else knew--including the minister--that it was just grape juice and bread. So, I often felt like asking (though I never did), why are all you adults pretending like this? I felt a bit like I was playing "tea" with my three year old cousin, cheerfully sipping at little empty cups to humor her and play along to make her happy. But in this case the partners in the game were adults who should know better.

[Again, I want to say I mean no offense to those who aren't Catholic. It seemed relevant in the context of this discussion to be forthright about my experiences and reactions.]

Gregory Kong said...

And who's now turning it into a debate between Catholics and Protestants? :)

Firstly, apologies if that is how I sounded. I don't want to start debates or arguments; merely presenting why Protestants sometimes have issues with specific RC beliefs/doctrines/practices. And whether we can harmonise them to any degree.

Does anybody, RC, Orthodox or Protestant, deny that Christ's body was broken for us? Indeed, no. Or that His blood was shed for us? Again, indeed, no.

The question of the Eucharist is the nature of what we consume.

St Paul writes;

"so that whoever may eat this bread or may drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, guilty he shall be of the body and blood of the Lord"

(Young's Literal Translation)

So we can see that the Eucharist is at once bread and cup, and also body and blood.

I commend the RCs for trying to explain how this can be. For myself, I say it is a mystery.

Actually, I associate the Eucharist with the Passover, which Jesus, I believe, makes perfectly clear. The Jews, when they worship YHWH in observing the Passover, commemorate the historical event for themselves. That is to say, to the Jews, it is *they* who got ready to get their keisters out of Egypt. Not their forefathers, but themselves. How is this? Well, it is a mystery.

Darren, I don't know whether you set this blog up specifically to elicit commentary from RCs alone, or whether you would welcome other Christians' viewpoints also. If the former, then seeing as I am not an RC, nor have any intention of being such, I will cease commenting (but not reading, of course).

scott j: Why all the significance attributed to Holy Communion when we're just consuming little wafers and Ribena?

1. Jesus commanded us to do so.
2. As people treat a country's flag respectfully (or not) as a symbol of the country.
3. To proclaim Christ's death until He comes.

Is that not reason enough? I certainly think so. We never respect symbols for what they are, but what they represent; similar to Jesus' miracles not signifiacnt only in themselves, but in Who they point to.

Anglicans still say 'they are to us His body, and His blood' (in reference to the bread and cup). So I am not so sure we are all that different from the RCs in that respect. I treat the sacraments very seriously indeed.

And, as an aside, the washing of feet also. :)

Scott J said...

Nightfly, thank you also for a very helpful comment.

You wrote,

"The word usually translated as 'rememberance' is (I believe) anamnesis . . . the word doesn't just mean 'memory' but 'to make present again.' It is not like looking at a picture or home movie, so much as stepping into that movie and interacting with the people there."

Thank you! I was intending also to eventually make this very same point about "remembrance." I think this is very important background for any discussion of a Catholic understanding of the Eucharist. I only want to confirm that the word in 1 Cor 11:25-26 and Lk 22:19, translated in English as "remembrance," is indeed, in the original Greek, a form of the word "anamnesis."

The English doesn't quite capture the full sense of what the Greek means. Indeed, "to make present again" is a good way of indicating what it really means. To engage in anamnesis is to make present now something that originally occurred in the past--to make present again an act, its power, and its effects. It is not simply to recall or call to mind some past event through a ritualized form of memorial, thus serving only to prevent the communal memory of something important from fading. No. Even in its pagan Greek origins, it is a term with inherently mysterious implications, straining to leave behind the constraints of time.

A religious ritual which is an anamnesis is not play-acting ("shooting blanks" we might say). The term implies that there is a mysterious power within the ritual action itself such that it is a doing again, truly making present again (a re-presentation of), the same effects as what the original event brought about.

This is quite important because when we casually read that Jesus said at the Last Supper, "Do this in remembrance of me," we don't catch the full implications. The English does not properly convey the richer meaning of the original Greek text. What He is saying is more like, "Do again what I am now doing here for you, and when you do, the same power and the same effects that I am bringing about now will be brought about again through your actions as you imitate me."

The Apostles themselves, at the time, could not have grasped the awesome implications of this great sacrament that Jesus was instituting in their midst. Indeed, just then they could not have fully comprehended what Jesus was doing--what the sacramental power of the Eucharist was and what consuming it would bring about within them. Only later, after the coming of the Holy Spirit to lead them more deeply into the truth, would they grow to more fully understand.


Now, shifting gears a bit, I want to say something on a subject that I think is another important part of the background needed to have a fruitful discussion on the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist. This has to do with the Catholic notion of the ongoing and progressive nature of salvation in the lives of individual believers even while here on earth.

This is also one of those things that a great deal can be said about. But, trying to be concise, the Catholic understanding of salvation takes very seriously the reality of the filial relationship between God and man--i.e., that we truly are His children (by adoption), and He is truly our Father. And, like any good father (and God is not merely a good father, He is The Perfect Father; the one from whom all authentic fatherhood springs), He is never satisfied with the bare minimum for us. He wants us to grow and develop as much as possible in this life, before bringing us to our final home beyond this life. In a Catholic world view, this life's purpose is not simply to provide a discrete moment wherein a spiritual transaction happens at a single point in time, and we thus become labeled "saved," as though placing an invisible sign on our foreheads.

Rather, the Catholic world view, seeing God as a loving father, looks upon this life--including the relationship between God and man and the action of God's graces transforming our lives--as a continually unfolding relationship in which God never ceases to call us and to help us to grow spiritually into more loving, selfless human beings. From this point of view, God is not satisfied just to "get us to heaven"--in a sort of minimalist approach. He wants nothing less than to constantly form and stretch our hearts and minds to be more and more authentically human--more fully children who fulfill the gift of being made in His image by living in a way that displays the glory of God through our thoughts and actions.

And we don't, of course, do this by our own power. But, by the ongoing assistance of His loving grace, poured into our souls. The more grace we are given and that we accept and cooperate with, the more we become like Jesus in the way we live--and thus become more authentically joyful; and are more genuine witnesses to the beauty of divine love and truth.

Given this, in God's plan the Eucharist is the primary sacrament--the channel of grace par-excellance--by which God makes available to us an ongoing stream of the gift of His precious, saving, and transforming grace.

The Eucharist is not only something to be received once (though this would be sufficient food for eternal life from a minimalist perspective); it is something to be received often, again and again, until we die. Every day if we can. [Recall the manna in the desert.] Why? Because, our heavenly Father not only wants to bring us to heaven, He wants to shape us into the greatest lovers we can possibly be--the fullest possible reflection of divine glory (each in a unique way) that we can be. He wants the best for us--He is a maximalist when it comes to His desire to bestow life-transforming gifts into the souls of His children! Each reception of the holy Eucharist delivers sanctifying, cleansing, healing, elevating, transforming divine grace into our souls in a special way that nothing else does. It is a unique spiritual gift that is irreplaceable. The Church calls the Eucharist, the "source and summit" of the Christian life.

Why do I think this subject is important? Because I hope that it helps to make clear why we yearn to receive the Eucharist not just once, but often. We are a work in progress, placing our souls anew each day into the potter's hands, to be patiently restored and shaped into who He wants us to be.

And so, tying back into my first comment, Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist in a form such that it could be repeated again and again--even as each instance in time of the Eucharistic meal would be one with, and a re-presentation of, the once-for-all original Eucharistic meal. This, because as we journey through this life our Father always wants to have His hand gently upon us up to the moment we die. And there is no more special and intimate and incarnational way in His plan to do this than to feed us with the Body and Blood of Jesus, real spiritual nourishment unto eternal life, progressively transforming us into better children for our sake, because He loves us with an all-encompassing, ravishing love.

The Holy Eucharist, among many other things, in its character of being daily offered and available to us, and of its being a re-presentation now of the grace and power of the Lord's Supper, manifests those exquisitely fatherly traits of God's love raining down upon us: that He wants the very best for each of us, and, that His work in transforming us into our better selves involves constant care on His part, like the potter, always with a hand upon the clay every moment until the wheel is done spinning.

Scott J said...

Hope you all are not getting too tired of reading my attempts to write about the Holy Eucharist. I apologize if you are.

I would like to give a couple reading suggestions, specifically about the Eucharist.

First, is to read the section on the Eucharist in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This can be found in the Catechism, numbers 1322-1419.

Second, is the papal encyclical, "Mysterium Fidei" (Mystery of Faith) by Pope Paul VI (1963). It can be read online, at
www.ewtn.com/library/ENCYC/P6MYSTER.HTM


I definitely recommend reading the Catechism first. Then, after the Catechism, you might take a look at the papal encyclical on the Eucharist.

And I close this comment with a quote from Pope John Paul II that reveals an intriguing intersection with some themes that have been written about in this thread:

By the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost the Church was born and set out upon the pathways of the world, yet a decisive moment in her taking shape was certainly the institution of the Eucharist in the Upper Room. Her foundation and wellspring is the whole Triduum paschale, but this is as it were gathered up, foreshadowed and 'concentrated' for ever in the gift of the Eucharist. In this gift Jesus Christ entrusted to his Church the perennial making present of the paschal mystery. With it he brought about a mysterious “oneness in time” between that Triduum and the passage of the centuries.

The thought of this leads us to profound amazement and gratitude. In the paschal event and the Eucharist which makes it present throughout the centuries, there is a truly enormous “capacity” which embraces all of history as the recipient of the grace of the redemption. This amazement should always fill the Church assembled for the celebration of the Eucharist. But in a special way it should fill the minister of the Eucharist. For it is he who, by the authority given him in the sacrament of priestly ordination, effects the consecration. It is he who says with the power coming to him from Christ in the Upper Room: “This is my body which will be given up for you. This is the cup of my blood, poured out for you...”. The priest says these words, or rather he puts his voice at the disposal of the One who spoke these words in the Upper Room and who desires that they should be repeated in every generation by all those who in the Church ministerially share in his priesthood. . . .

[E]ven when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation. The Son of God became man in order to restore all creation, in one supreme act of praise, to the One who made it from nothing. He, the Eternal High Priest who by the blood of his Cross entered the eternal sanctuary, thus gives back to the Creator and Father all creation redeemed. He does so through the priestly ministry of the Church, to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity. Truly this is the mysterium fidei which is accomplished in the Eucharist: the world which came forth from the hands of God the Creator now returns to him redeemed by Christ.

The Eucharist, as Christ's saving presence in the community of the faithful and its spiritual food, is the most precious possession which the Church can have in her journey through history.


[Excerpted from the encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," 2003]

Damien said...

Trust me... I am NOT getting bored by ANY of this.

Been thinking about everything and just absorbing it.

Because you guys have been on a roll and really helping me with this one I have delayed my next question which is another big one.

lol...don't want you all to get Carpal Tunnel.

Damien said...

Oh and as to what views I want to see comments on?

While I am looking for Catholic information please don't stop commenting because you may be Protestant. I would love to hear your views as well. This gives me that multiple perspective and so far from what I am reading in my comments now, none of this is confusing to me. I understand which view points are whose.

Flexo said...

So, we haven't yet "knocked him off of his feet"? Or maybe he has simply regained his footing?

In any event . . .

Yesterday, Jennifer F. from "Et tu?", described her prior search for understanding of the concept of self, in the context of overcoming an early bout with depression:

For quite a few years in my late teens and early 20's, I struggled with depression. It was clear to me that there was some kind of chemical imbalance going on in my brain, and it permeated every aspect of my life and thoughts. I would sometimes lament the fact that I just wasn't "myself" anymore...yet I was never comfortable with that idea. In my worldview, the human person was nothing more than a collection of molecules; selfhood was nothing more than a unique set of chemical reactions firing in the brain. In that case, how could the current set of chemical reactions be less "me" than the chemical reactions that were going on a few years before? * * *

Eventually things changed, and the depression lifted. I was grateful and relieved to finally be myself again. And yet, this "selfhood" that I had "recovered" clearly had a rather different set of chemical reactions and patterns of behavior than the version of me the last time I'd felt like myself, when I was a young teenager. How could this be?

(http://www.conversiondiary.com)

This reflection by Jennifer led me to thinking -- it is not merely a different set of chemical reactions -- are they not also a different set of cells, a different set of molecules and atoms making up, not only the brain, but the entire body? Indeed, is not our physical body of today an entirely different body from years past?

The cells in our body are continually being replaced, which is to say that the cells that make up our body are being replaced, which is to say, the physical body is itself continually being replaced. The purely physical "me" that walked the earth as a child is long, long gone, and the current "me" is something entirely different. And yet . . . I have the same thoughts, same memories, same desires, same anxieties. I am "me" and "not-me" at the same time.

Is this simply a case of an invasion of body snatchers? Are we all secretly pod people?

The answer, of course, is No, we are not pod people, but people possessed of a transcendent spirit, which remains the same in its essential aspect regardless of what may happen to the physical body. To be sure, the spirit even survives the death of the body.

Nevertheless, this idea of the continual replacement of the cells of the body got me thinking. Is this phenomenon a way to greater understanding of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, which we have been discussing?

As said before, this continual process of cell replacement eventually leads to the physical body being completely different from the one that was before, even though it may look like the exact same thing. That is, the superficial appearance of the body is not necessarily the same as the reality of it.

Is this not what goes on in the Eucharist? The items in front of us look the same as before, a type of bread and wine, but they are, in reality, no longer as they were before. They are something completely different, just as your physical body today is, in reality, different from the body you had as a child.

An imperfect analogy, I'll admit. The reality of the body today is still a physical body, not something else. But the fact remains, it is different from what it was before, even if it appears to be the same. It is not at all illogical or contrary to reason for a thing to appear to be one thing, yet be something else entirely.

It might help if we were able to see with God's eyes. If God were sitting in the pew, would He see a round piece of bread and a chalice of wine? Or would His eyes of truth show Him the Body of Blood of Jesus? Is it simply a matter of perspective? The God who is Truth is able to see the ultimate reality, and is not bound by the mere superficial, as we are?

Perhaps it is like us looking at a circle. From our human perspective that is exactly what it is. Or, rather, that is what it appears to be, and we have no way of testing it to determine if it is something else. Meanwhile, God looks at it from the perspective of complete Truth, and sees that it is, in actuality, a cylinder, not merely a circle. Viewed in its true perspective, it is something else entirely from what it appears to be from a limited, superficial, and flawed perspective.

Well, this much we can agree is true, human analogies to describe the divine will always fall short, but they do allow us to gain some additional understanding. What is important is what is really real, not what appears to be.

(cross-posted at -
http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com)

Gregory Kong said...

flexo: Yes, I believe in that we all agree. It is really something else to consider the eternal, timeless, transcendent perspective God has, while also considering the immanence of His interactions with the universe every moment of every day throughout all of time.

Damien, possibly another consideration you may want to take a look at; setting aside the precise nature of the Eucharistic sacraments for a moment, what do you think about the *manner* in which it is partaken?

My pesonal opinion is that while the Eucharist is important, its importance also lies in the fact that we are not to partake it unworthily. This is the reason why we are not permitted to eat the bread and drink the cup until we have completed catechism and are confirmed; we should know what it means to be part of the Lord's Supper.

Scott J said...

Happy Fourth of July! Despite our nation's flaws, we are extremely blessed to live in such a great country. Hope you all have a great Fourth.

Continuing on the discussion. . .


Here is a general remark that hopefully helps to further fill in the context within which Catholics approach the Eucharist.

When Catholics receive Holy Communion, we believe it has a number of effects upon our souls. These include: giving us spiritual food for life in heaven; healing us from smaller (those not mortal) sins; transforming our souls (a small step at a time) to be more conformed to the image of God (i.e. to be more like Christ); elevating our souls through an increasing closeness to and intimacy with Jesus; increasing our unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ (both living and deceased); strengthening us in the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and love of God, as well as deepening the infused virtues in us (like prudence, fortitude, etc.); teaching us more of Jesus, the faith, and His Church, and reminding us of what Jesus did for us, and of the unspeakable depth of love He has for us. It binds us more deeply to Him. It readies our soul to understand the Scriptures more deeply.

In a word, we might say the Body and Blood of Jesus (so long as we receive it in faith and want to embrace all the gifts God gives us in this sacrament) makes us more "holy" by receiving it. It sanctifies us.

There is more, but these are most of the biggies I can think of right now. I want to shine a light especially on the healing aspect of the Eucharist. Sin damages our souls (and, by extension, all of human society). Not only does grave sin make us incapable of living in heaven; all sin damages us by degrading our interior integrity as whole human persons. It makes us divided against ourselves in a variety of ways. Sin also harms our relationships with others. We become less capable of relating to others in a selfless, truly loving way. And we become less sensitive to the needs of others. These things are destructive of ourselves in our own interior self-possession and wage war against a proper (not prideful) love of self. They also wage war against the social cohesion and decency of human society.

God knows we need help in all these things--supernatural help; spiritually transforming, healing, elevating help. So, the Eucharist heals us from the damage and destruction that sin wreaks upon us individually and communally. And, note that in God's plan, it heals and elevates us progressively, not all at once (though that can occur if it is God's will).

This at least partly explains why Catholics who are well-instructed in what the Holy Eucharist is, have a strong desire to receive Jesus in communion as often as possible, even daily. We are in need of daily doses of divine help, of a divine touch upon our souls, of ever greater healing and restoration from the damage brought about by sin.

Because, our Father in heaven loves us too much to leave us as we are in the muck and stink of our sin. He reaches down His loving hand and offers us the Holy Eucharist as the heavenly food and source of grace that we need to have any chance of countering the otherwise constant downward pull of sin and its effects.

God bless your holiday!

Scott J said...

Gregory, sorry for taking so long to respond. You said,

Why all the significance attributed to Holy Communion when we're just consuming little wafers and Ribena?

1. Jesus commanded us to do so.
2. As people treat a country's flag respectfully (or not) as a symbol of the country.
3. To proclaim Christ's death until He comes.

Is that not reason enough?


Well, it depends on what you mean, especially in no. 1.

Part of the whole point that we Catholics have been establishing is that when the Scriptures are taken seriously with both the near context and the larger context of a passage (rather than plucking things out of context and in isolation from the larger whole), the meaning of Jesus' command to eat His Body and Blood ("do this in remembrance of me") was not to do something that would be merely a symbolic event. The Eucharistic passages make no sense if they are taken as Jesus merely establishing a symbolic event. Again, if the body and blood are symbolic only, there is no reasonable explanation for Jn 6:60 and 66: the reaction of many of the disciples and Jesus' glaring lack of explaining to them He only meant His words symbolically. He let them go. In verse 60 they grumble that "this teaching is difficult" (another translation uses "intolerable"). What, exactly, would be so difficult/intolerable if Jesus were only speaking of the bread and wine of communion as symbolic of His body and blood? There would be nothing difficult about this at all! Certainly nothing to cause His disciples to depart from Him altogether! And for Him to do nothing to correct what would have been a colossal misunderstanding.

Yes, He commanded us to do this--but what exactly did He command us to do? Did He command us to do something which He clearly understood and meant to be merely symbolic of Him? Or, did He command us to do something which was not only symbolic, but also would be an actual partaking of His real risen and glorified Body and Blood? Is Holy Communion, as understood and taught by Christ, a real partaking of His bodily flesh--His true Body and Blood? Or, is it eating bread and wine that is simply and only a symbol of Him?

Catholics deny--based on the meaning of Jesus' words as recorded in Scripture, taken in context, including the context of the whole New Testament as well as the Old Testament precursors to the Eucharist--that Jesus meant only a symbolic interpretation of what Holy Communion is. We claim (as the historic Christian faith has consistently done from the time of the Apostles forward) that what Jesus commanded us to do was to eat His flesh. And that He meant this quite literally (as the Scriptures make clear).

So, yes, He commanded us to do so. But, exactly what He commanded us to do is to eat His Body and Blood--to consume His flesh. To take it as something less--as a symbol only--is, in the eyes of Catholics, to diminish and disregard the full reality of just exactly what Jesus commended us to do.

And, perhaps I don't need to say more on this. But, I'll also mention the important prefiguration of the Eucharist which Jesus Himself explicitly points out (and which I also commented on somewhere up yonder). The Manna in the desert . When the Israelites were wandering about in the desert for 40 years, their bodies needed something more than symbolic food. They needed sustenance that their mouths would chew and swallow and that their body could digest and be truly fed by. The bread from heaven --the manna--is described in Exodus as no mere symbol (though as well it certainly was a symbol of God providing for His people what they need every day), but also as a genuine corporeal substance that truly nourished the fleshly bodies of the Israelites. Jesus' discourse about the new "bread from heaven" of his flesh in John 6 is similar in that just like the old bread from heaven, the new bread from heaven is no mere symbol. It is something, the consumption of which in its corporeal substance, itself provides genuine sustenance for life. The difference is that the old bread was a corporeal substance that provided real food for physical life on this earth. The new bread is a corporeal substance that provides real food for the life in eternity to come--for life in heaven. But they are both a sort of bread such that the very physical eating of it is necessary for it to provide its gift of life. Symbolic, yes. But symbol only--no. This is a sacrament: a special symbol established by God that truly is, and brings about, what it symbolizes.

Pertaining to no. 2. How is Jn 6:53-4 merely similar to giving respect to the flag as representative of a nation? Jesus says here that if you don't eat His flesh and drink His blood you have no life in you. And then in positive terms He says if you do eat (chew) His flesh and drink His blood you will have eternal life. And just to make it more clear, He goes on to indicate that the life He is talking about is the life of the resurrected body! ("I shall raise Him up on the last day.") And for my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I in Him (55-6). How could anyone say this is merely on a par with encouraging the proper respect due to a national flag??? Huh?! If the Body and Blood of Christ and a flag are comparable, then burning a flag would set off real flames over the entire nation, so identified would they be with each other.

Pertaining to no. 3. OK; 1 Cor 11, of course. But this in particular doesn't seem to me to suggest a difference between Catholic and non-Catholic understandings of the Eucharist. Although, I typically think of language emphasizing Christ's death as something mentioned especially in connection with baptism (baptized into His death). And that those who are to rise in Him must first be baptized into His death so as to rise with Christ into new life. (Rom 6:3-4)

Paul's true meaning here in 1 Cor 11:26 I must confess seems very enigmatic and mysterious to me.

Scott J said...

IV. New Testament witness to the holy Eucharist. [see outline above on June 28]


OK. I and others have already done a fair amount of this. But here are a couple Biblical passages that fall outside those usually mentioned in discussions about the Eucharist, so I offer them for your additional mental mastication.

Matthew 16:28

This verse is also enigmatic and I don't think there is a solid consensus as to just what is being referred to. One more obvious possibility is to the Transfiguration, which, indeed is described in the very next passage of Matthew.

But there is at least another intriguing possibility (and they could both be intended together here). Consider the Eucharist. At the Last Supper, the Apostles were ordained with the priestly ministry, which includes to "do this in remembrance of me," i.e. to celebrate the Eucharistic meal and all this implies. Now, Catholic doctrine holds that the Eucharist is the real presence of Jesus Christ--Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity--His resurrected and glorified Body. The only reason this glory is not manifest in the appearance is because God deliberately keeps it hidden behind the appearances of bread and wine. So, verse 28 about "coming in His kingdom" could apply to the Eucharist, for, though not visibly manifest, as it is the risen and glorified body of Christ the Eucharist certainly is Christ coming "in His kingdom." And because the Apostles after Pentecost celebrated the Eucharist with the first Christians, they did indeed see Jesus because they saw the Eucharist.

So it was true indeed that there were some there with Jesus who would not taste death before they saw the son of man "coming in His kingdom," meaning, before they saw and partook in the Holy Eucharist. After all, it is the bread which comes down from heaven (Jn 6:50).

Matthew 28:20

I am with you always to the end of the age.

I think someone (flexo?) above did say something about this. But I want to add my two bits.

When I became Catholic, this verse acquired a whole new meaning for me. It became awesomely, shockingly, more true than I could ever have imagined.

Not only is Jesus with us in spirit, through each other, and in the Scriptures, but, He is with us in an amazingly complete and literal way by His presence among us in the Holy Eucharist. Because of His unbounded love, knowing so intimately our human needs, He is not content to be with us in ways that, though powerful, are not bodily. We are human, bodily creatures. Jesus took a body to Himself forever in the Incarnation. Any way of being "with" a human being that is not also bodily is incomplete--does not fulfill the full measure of "being with" according to the human way of being. If Jesus said He was going to be "with" us always, would He not in His unspeakably great love, do so in a way that would so deeply meet our human need to be with those we love in a bodily way?

The teaching about the Eucharist means that Jesus is truly "with us" in a bodily way, a way so beyond what we would ever dream of, so incredibly awesome, how could we be anything less than filled to overflowing with awe and gratitude that we can be in this glorious, though hidden, Presence, with Him. And not only this, but we can receive Him into our very bodies! Like in the tabernacles (dwelling tents) of the desert, but in a vastly more authentic and awesome manner, Jesus dwells among us (and even in our bodies) in every Catholic tabernacle around the world, until the end of the present age.

Scott J said...

V. Some personal comments about how the Catholic teaching of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist has powerfully impacted my personal faith.


As is the case with any aspect of the topic at hand, I could go on at length about this. But, I will make a few remarks.

The Eucharist provides a closeness and intimacy with Jesus Christ I never knew was possible in this life. Without speaking in hyperbole, it changes one's entire perception of the world and of life on this earth. For much, much, the better! But, it is also bittersweet.

Protestant Christians, especially Evangelicals (born-again), are keen on the subject (and rightly so!) of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. There are many non-Catholics who do indeed have a very close personal relationship to Jesus. No doubt about it. I personally admire many Protestants (many of whom in my experience happen to have been elderly black women; no doubt non-Catholics can have an awesome faith relationship and love for Jesus!) for the strength and depth of their faith in Christ. But that being said, there is no form of relationship to Jesus Christ which, for a person living on this earth, could possibly be any more personally close than receiving Jesus in the Eucharist into one's own body, or, by worshiping in His Presence near a Catholic tabernacle.

The Eucharist makes the idea of a "personal relationship" with Jesus Christ so real, words simply cannot begin to describe how personal and intimate the relationship truly is. It goes far beyond any other mode of relationship with Jesus that a person can have in this life. Now that I know Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, I can't imagine not having the Eucharist. I don't want to seem melodramatic or self-promoting or anything, but, I am sincere in saying I would rather die than to be forced to leave the Catholic faith for a form of Christianity where I would no longer have the Eucharist. It changes everything. No prayer, no experience of reading Scripture (don't get me wrong; every Christian should read and pray over the Bible often!), no relationship with another person, no religious hymn, could ever come remotely close to the sheer profundity and depth of the relationship one can enter into with Jesus Christ through the Holy Eucharist.

Here is a personal experience. I hope it is not inappropriate to write about this given the context of this discussion. I do not want to call undue attention to myself as some sort of example (for I am so defective in many ways). And so, I write the following simply as a witness of what Jesus has done for me.

Before I was confirmed into the Catholic faith in 1995, but after I had come to accept and believe everything that the Catholic Church teaches and believes (including the Eucharist), I distinctly remember the first time I went alone into a Catholic chapel where there was a tabernacle to pray in the presence of Jesus. It was a small separate prayer room where a tabernacle was kept in which Jesus was present in the Eucharist. (This was a Navy facility where the main chapel was multi-faith, so the tabernacle was kept aside in a special prayer space for Catholics). I almost don't want to say much because it is so personal. The first time I went into that prayer room (I was in the Navy at the time), as one who had recently come to believe and know that Jesus was right there ten feet away in His Real Presence in the Eucharist--Body, Blood, Soul, Divinity--so humbly, in the locked tabernacle, it was life changing. No one else was there. It was me and Jesus, radiating His divine love from the silent tabernacle. I knew at that moment, for the first time in my life, just a tiny bit of how profoundly and completely Jesus personally loves me. I was so close to Jesus' bodily presence I could have touched Him were the tabernacle open. I went up close to the tabernacle and just prayed on my knees, in awe of the sheer fact of how close I was in that very moment to my Lord and Savior. And to think I had not known before that it was possible to be so close to Him! I had never known before that He is here for us in this way--available for us to come and spend time with Him! To just be near Him in His Presence!

I will never forget that first private experience of being present with Jesus in His silent but powerful Presence in that tabernacle. The sheer sense of profound gratitude and amazement and excitement and wonder and desire to worship that took hold of me and welled up to overflowing in my heart was unlike anything I had ever experienced: "Jesus . . . is . . . HERE!!!" I knew at that moment in a radically new way how powerful and all-encompassing the love of Christ is for each and every one of us. What must His love be like that He would bother to be with us in this incredibly special way? Even while we are still sinners and flawed and imperfect in so many ways? Words just cannot capture this greatness of Jesus' personal, incarnational love for us, poured out in the Holy Eucharist.

Scott J said...

Perhaps this is enough blather from me on this particular topic! I intend not to make additional unprompted comments on this specific thread on the Eucharist, unless, of course, Damien or others have specific questions or issues for me, in which case I'll be only too glad to spill more electronic "ink."

I look forward to the continuing discussion. Damien (and all), please know that you and your family are in my prayers.

Gail F said...

Transubstantiation is a simple concept to grasp. People who are not Catholic often seem to want to make it into something complicated and strange that only morons would believe in.

Here it is, in a nutshell -- without going into too many technical details. Everything has an essense -- a quality that makes it what it is. An apple is an apple, whether it is green or red, whether it is on the tree or in bin at the store, whether it is unripe or ripe or rotten. All the things that change about the apple are its "accidents" (to use one technical term). If you spray paint the apple orange, it doesn't BECOME an orange, it remains an apple in its essence. In the normal course of things, a thing's accidents can change without its essence changing, but a thing's essence can't change without its accidents changing. An apple tree remains an apple tree, whether it is a sapling or a dead trunk, but if I run it through a shredder it is now something else -- mulch.

We are talking general terms here, not molecules and atoms, although you could do so.

This is readily understandable by anyone with common sense. You are the same person you were when you were a baby and the same person you will be when you are an old man, although everything observable quality about you has changed.

Anyway, in transubstantiation, the ESSENCE of the bread and the wine changes, but the accidents stay the same. It becomes the body and blood of Christ, though it looks and tastes and would be microscopically analyzed as the same as before. It is a very great miracle, because you and I can't change an essence without changing all the accidents. It just can't be done.

People have gone into great detail and given moving testimony about why we believe this; I wanted to go into some detail about what we believe. You can't prove this scientifically because science can only deal with the observable world and this is, by definition, not observable.

So if it's not observable, why should you believe it?

That's a very different question.